Duncan Graham tells Nina Notman just how important people are for the future of science.
|Professor Duncan Graham is director of the Centre for Molecular Nanometrology at the University of Strathclyde, UK, which is focused on creating new methods of bioanalysis based on nanoparticle based sensors and optical spectroscopy, and in particular surface enhanced Raman scattering. Duncan is on the editorial board for The Analyst. |
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
It was the DNA double helix that inspired me to become a scientist. First I heard about DNA and the story involved in it, and then I was shown the film 'Race for the Double Helix' by my biology teacher in 5th year at school, and I thought 'I want to do science.'
What is the secret to running a successful research group?
What I try to do is allow students and postdocs to do their own decision making and empower them in terms of their research direction as opposed to dictating to them. I don't think that dictation works. If you give students and postdocs responsibility and enthuse them about what they are doing then they contribute a lot more than they would otherwise and they really get into it.
You are the director of the Centre for Molecular Nanometrology at the University of Strathclyde. Can you explain what nanometrology is?
It is the measurement of very small things on a very small scale. It is using molecules and chemistry to develop new methods of measurement on the nanoscale, preferably in living systems.
What is the most exciting project that your group is working on at the moment?
"The challenge is trying to take the chemistry of detection that we are doing on the bench into a living environment"
We are trying to do in vivo
detection of different disease states using surface enhanced Raman scattering (SERS), nanoparticles and some bio-interactions. This involves functionalising nanoparticles that respond to a specific biological molecule or interaction and that response is indicated by the SERS spectra. The challenging part of this is trying to take the chemistry of detection that we are doing on the bench into a living environment.
What do you think will be the next breakthrough for SERS?
It is likely to be combining the exquisite selectivity and sensitivity of the technique to make a biological measurement which relates to some human health issue, for example detection of a specific protein marker or biomarker relating to a disease state that can't be detected by other techniques.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The people, especially seeing my colleagues' faces light up when they get a scientific breakthrough. Another rewarding aspect is the ability to come up with an idea, discuss it with other scientists, colleagues and collaborators, and work it through to a natural experiment that generates data that is new and exciting.
How do you see the future of analytical science in the UK?
That will depend on a number of different factors. There is a good body of new scientists being trained in analytical chemistry and they are being trained to a have a multidisciplinary outlook on the subject. Analytical science shouldn't pigeon hole itself, it needs to become more expansive and encompassing than it is. This is starting to happen, but funding councils and the people who promote the subject need to realise it. They need to support the subject more adequately than they have done already, otherwise it is not going to deliver on the same scale as some of our counterparts in the US have. People who are having massive breakthroughs in what we would consider analytical science are not necessarily traditional analytical chemists.
What piece of lab equipment would you most like to be?
A cork! It is the first thing that came into my head.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I think I would be a deep sea diver. Or maybe a bus driver, or a labourer? Or a butcher - I have always fancied being a butcher.